I Love Your Work by Jonathan Harris

Pick of the Week #94

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This week’s pick is Jonathan Harris’ ‘I Love Your Work’, an interactive environment and documentary about lesbian pornography.

Jonathan Harris is an artist and computer scientist. Known most famously for co-creating ‘We Feel Fine’, he makes projects that re-imagine how humans relate to technology and to each other.

Harris’ goal in his work is to “make sense of the emotional world of the Web. With deep compassion for the human condition, his projects troll the Internet to find out what we’re all feeling and looking for.” - TED

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Harris joined each of the nine women whose lives he chose to document as she went about her day and recorded them for a 24 hour period. With over six hours footage in total, the online experience features a tapestry of 10 second clips strung together into stories for the viewer to discover. The result is beautifully shot, candid footage providing an intimate insight into the lives of women otherwise only seen in their pornographic films.

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Harris explains, “I wanted to do a project about sex. Sex is omnipresent in our culture (TV, movies, ads, porn), yet at the same time it’s really stigmatized and very few people talk openly about it — there’s a lot of guilt and shame around sex. I was raised in a pretty conservative environment, and I wanted to immerse myself in a world of people for whom sex is more normalised – where sex is seen as a natural part of being human, and not something to feel ashamed about. I thought those people might have things to teach the rest of us about how to be more open and honest.  I was also interested in understanding the realities of people who make fantasies – I was curious how fantasies look from within.”

The result of looking at these women’s fantasies ‘from within’ is a rich and relatable view of the human beings behind the pornography. Seen at their most relaxed, we discover a world of otherwise ordinary and likeable women who each have their own story to tell. harris 8

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With homosexuality in the spotlight in the media at the moment with Britain’s gay marriage bill, thoughts of equality are on everyone’s minds. “So much tension rules our sexuality,” one girl explains, as she tells how she keeps to places where others see her as normal in order to avoid confrontation.

I Love Your Work seeks to challenge common perceptions of pornography and the people who make it, and seems to be a part of a cultural shift that allows technology to help us extend our empathy further than before.

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One of the most interesting aspects of the project is how Harris chose to present it. The full interactive experience can only be booked by 10 viewers per day, and tickets are $10. There is also an ‘instant access’ premium package available for $300 for those who can’t wait, which includes three tickets and an inkjet print. And this is all is entirely deliberate.

“Internet porn is all about instant gratification, and web content is generally thought to be cheap, free, and limitless, so people tend not to appreciate it.  I wanted to upend those assumptions, so this project is all about delayed (not instant) gratification (i.e. you have to schedule a viewing date ahead of time), and by introducing artificial scarcity (i.e. only 10 viewers per day), it’s an attempt to create the perception of value around a digital experience.”

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“I do think [monetising online creativity] is a major missing piece of Internet culture — i.e. how do the creators of digital work make a living?  In other genres, we’re used to paying for great work (renting movies on Netflix, buying songs on iTunes, buying items on Etsy, etc.), but there’s not yet a culture of valuing and paying for purely digital creations.  This means that the makers of digital creations need to support themselves in other ways (freelance work, advertising jobs, etc.), and I think that’s too bad.  Our culture should value its best work, even if that work only exists on the Internet.”

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“I shot the footage using a Canon 5D Mark II with a Sennhauser microphone affixed to the camera. I edited the footage using Final Cut Pro X, and I built the interactive environment using Flash (I really wanted to use HTML5, but the video support in HTML5 isn’t quite up to snuff for everything I wanted to do).  The ticketing system is built using Javascript, PHP, and MySQL.”

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When asked specifically about the collision of human nature with technology, Harris explains

“I think we inhabit an historical moment that’s all about human beings merging with machines, and learning to navigate that shift in different ways — how much we use our phones, how much we live online, how much we give of ourselves to the network, how we may choose to augment our physical bodies with hardware (very soon, I bet), and so on.  All technologies are extensions of things that are already in us — the hammer extends the hand, the piano extends the voice — and the Internet extends our minds (and increasingly our emotions, as we empathize with anonymous strangers through the artifacts of their lives that we find online).  I really see the human species quickly becoming a single meta-organism, brought to life via the Internet, which is our common nervous system.  There are many unanswered questions about what will be the nature of that organism — will it be kind, greedy, collaborative, accepting?  What will it think about?  What problems will it try to solve?  How will it emote?  These are questions worth exploring before the answers are upon us.”

Check out the full interactive experience of I Love Your Work here.

Jonathan’s Website can be found here.